by Lash

“You Talkin’ to me?”, “Never rat on your friends, always keep your mouth shut.”, “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” These are some of the iconic lines uttered in Martin Scorsese’s movies. Very few people make movies like the visionary filmmaker, who turns 75 on 17 November. Since his debut movie Who’s That Knocking at my Door in 1967 at 25 with a young Harvey Keitel (a fellow student at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), he’s taken us on a joyous five-decade ride filled with emotions through his wide array of movies.

Born to Italian immigrant parents who are actors while holding onto normal jobs like clothes presser and seamstress, Scorsese was exposed to the cinematic world at a young age. Childhood asthma ruled out physical sports activities, so his parents would take him to the movie theatres, planting his seeds of passion for cinema then.

In only his third movie, Mean Streets (1973), Scorsese made everyone sit up to notice. With the central character being a small-time crook determine to work his way up the ranks of a local mob, Mean Streets would set the signature style the director applies to his future movies- bloody violence, the gritty side of New York, Catholic guilt (followed by redemption) and some influences of Italian heritage.

Amongst the people who noticed Mean Streets was Ellen Burstyn, who handpicked Scorsese to direct her in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974). Burstyn won an Academy Award for her role as a widower determine to make a new life for her son and start a career as a singer.

Following this success would be the movie that inked Scorsese’s name in Hollywood- Taxi Driver (1976). While in Mean Streets, you get a hint of his burgeoning style, it’s Taxi Driver that it comes out in full force, with his poignant story about a Viet war veteran (played by Robert De Niro) that spirals into a sinkhole of lunacy while struggling to maintain his last shreds of sanity. The movie broke boundaries- it was brutal with graphic violent scenes, a hard-to-stomach topic, and a teenage prostitute. Jodie Foster was only 12 years old when she took on the role. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the 1978 Academy Awards and went on to have a fruitful acting career. Meanwhile, there’s no stopping Scorsese himself, who went on to create 40 more years of movie magic.

Here are our picks of the Top Five Martin Scorsese you have to watch:

Taxi Driver (1976)

Back in the 70s, when Americans are still raw from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Scorsese made the bold move to tell the story of a man suffering post-combat trauma, and trying to cope with it. Scorsese manages to bring the issue close and relatable to the audience and takes us on the downward spiral with Robert De Niro’s character, Travis Bickle. Once, director and mentor Cassavetes encouraged Scorsese to create the movies he wants to make, instead of telling other people’s stories, and Taxi Driver is a clear example of that.

Raging Bull (1980)

After a few movies, we can usually tell a director’s quirks and styles, and here are two things about Scorsese- De Niro is a regular collaborator, and he likes to bring stories of real people onto the big screen (The Aviator, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street). With Raging Bull, he does both: working with De Niro to tell the real story of Jake La Motta, a former Middle-Weight boxing champion. A bully inside the ring and a tyrant in real life, Scorsese brings to life the turbulent of this boisterous boxer, played realistically by De Niro.

Goodfellas (1990)

While Scorsese dabbles in various genres through his five-decade career, the one category he owns is Crime. He’s able to dive deep into the minds of the depraved and splash their immorality all over the big screen. Goodfellas (Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco) is a prime example. In telling the story of a real mobster, Henry Hill, and his time in a New York crime syndicate, Scorsese digs into his own childhood, having grown up in a crime-ridden neighbourhood in Little Italy, for inspiration. The result is a riveting first of its kind film that people still talking about 27 years on. Apart from the gripping storyline with an urgent sense of pacing, Scorsese also manages to explore the different filming styles, you can see freeze frames, tracking shots and the use of music to create the mood. The movie may be two and a half hours long, but you can hardly feel its length.

The Departed (2006)

While Hollywood remakes of Asian movies usually lack the oomph felt in the original films, The Departed (Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson) is a worthy re-telling of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002). The pacing and suspense are artfully planned, and as the body count starts increasing, our heart rates, too, escalate wildly. The movie about the Irish mob planting a mole in the Massachusetts State Police and the Police themselves planting a spy in the mob is a madly entertaining ride that gives Scorsese his first Academy Award for Best Director in 2007.

The Departed

Hugo (2011)

We know Scorsese can create provocative movies that feature violence and repressed adult males with anger issues very well, but who would have thought he does sensitive dramas centred around children just as well? When Hugo (Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley) was released in 2011, it raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, the only child he’s worked with previously was a pre-teen Jodie Foster, and she played a prostitute. But Hugo opens our eyes to this other side of Scorsese. Based on the novel by Brian Selznick, Scorsese uses his interest in film history to beautifully portray the growing relationship between an orphan living in a train station in Paris and Georges Méliès, a revolutionary filmmaker who created films that were ahead of its time. The movie is one that both adults and children can enjoy, with Scorsese creating a world that’s part magical, part historical and all too beautiful.


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